Skip to main content

As Halloween approaches and consumers consider temporarily changing their eye color or the look of their eyes to match their costumes, Federal Trade Commission staff has sent letters to seven domestic brick-and-mortar retailers warning them that it is illegal to sell contact lenses—even cosmetic contacts—to consumers without a prescription.

In the letters, FTC staff warns the retailers, whom the Commission is not publicly identifying, that both cosmetic and corrective lenses are restricted medical devices that require a prescription from a medical professional to purchase. Accordingly, under the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers’ Act and the Contact Lens Rule, retailers may only sell contacts—including cosmetic contacts—when provided with a valid prescription or after verifying the prescription information with the prescriber.

The letters state that valid and verified prescriptions help ensure that consumers have been examined for overall eye health and proper fitting by a licensed eye care professional, and that without the guidance and supervision of a licensed eye care professional, consumers may develop serious injuries or complications from using cosmetic lenses, including: 1) pain and eye discomfort; 2) red or swollen eyes; 3) blurred or decreased vision; 4) corneal abrasion; 5) allergic reactions; 6) infection; and even 7) blindness.

Concluding the letters, FTC staff notes that violations of the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule may result in legal action, including civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation. The letters urge the recipients to review the Rule and revise their practices as necessary to ensure they are in compliance, and request that recipients contact the FTC immediately to explain how they plan to address the reported violations.

Related Consumer Education

The FTC recently issued a blog post, Halloween know-how: Cosmetic contacts require an Rx. It provides useful information for consumers looking to buy cosmetic contact lenses, including tips on how to shop safely, and reiterates that while cosmetic contacts may seem like just another fashion accessory, the fact is that all contacts require a prescription.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Contact Information

FTC’s Consumer Response Center

Mitchell J. Katz
Office of Public Affairs

Alysa S. Bernstein
Bureau of Consumer Protection